“What do you think about…?” Hands wrapped around her steaming mug, my friend leaned forward with an open expression. I looked down at my own latte and contemplated the designs swirled into the foam by the talented barista. Not wanting to give a trite response, I took a moment to answer. I feel honored when my friend asks my opinion because I know she takes my words seriously. Even when she disagrees with my stance. Taking a deep breath, I launched into my thoughts on the topic. Our coffee date this month was sure to be a lively one.
My friend and I enjoy a shared faith in Jesus Christ. However, we are quite different in our thinking on various aspects of Christianity. What I love about her is that while we do diverge theologically on several points, she accepts me regardless. She doesn’t call my faith into question, nor does she treat me as dimwitted or uneducated. In fact, we both find it thought-provoking to discuss certain topics precisely because we don’t always think alike. Our distinct perspectives give us plenty of fodder to talk about and mentally chew on.
Sadly, mutual acceptance such as I share with my friend seems rare. The quagmire of differing perspectives on doctrine and scripture has all too often left my heart feeling heavy and isolated. I know of many Christians who feel the need to hide in the closet in regards to some view they hold. If it’s not the popular view, or is at variance with that espoused by their particular church body, they hide in fear of being found out and rejected.
Matters of doctrine easily end up being divisive. At best, we look at those whose views are different and we feel smugly condescending. If they were as mature as us, we reason, they would see things as we do. Or if only they were in the Word more, they wouldn’t be so confused; scripture clearly teaches __________… At worst, we react with hostility, branding our opponents heretics. Division rules the day as we ostracize those who differ from us.
My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Oh, this should never be!
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (The words of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 13:34-35, HCSB)
Did you catch that? The world will see that we are followers of Jesus by how we love other Christians. Calvinism, Armenianism, old-earth, young-earth, eschatology, baptism, gifts of the spirit, roles of men and women, the list of divisive topics could go on and on. Do any of them give us license to ignore Christ’s command to love each other?
I love the way pastor Timothy Keller puts it:
“But God has given us unity around the doctrines he has in his wisdom chosen to make crystal clear—the deity of Christ, his Triune nature, the need for grace for forgiveness, the inerrancy of Scripture, and so on. We should not give up that unity because we can’t agree on issues such as baptism, church government, speaking in tongues, and so on. The question of …… is one of these ongoing issues. The church will likely never come to consensus about it. We must treat it as important, but not a cause for abrasive condemnations. We want people with different views on this to be able to live together. That would make our churches very, very unusual. If we were able to say: I disagree with you, but I agree with you on what is truly important, you are my brother and sister, and we will serve and worship together, then we would model to the world a much needed picture of unity, and of Christ-like love.” –Timothy Keller, Judges For You (underlined emphasis mine)
We certainly feel our opinions are correct, otherwise we wouldn’t hold the positions we do, right? We may even feel there are serious consequences to rejecting our pet doctrines. But let us be mindful of what we are willing to divide over. There should be few things worthy of that. As a faith family, we would be better served engaging in open, civil dialogue rather than name calling or shaming people into their doctrinal closets. Who knows? With open, respectful discussion, we might even sway someone to our side, or change our own thinking and grow in understanding.
Perhaps some things in scripture are not crystal clear for a reason. Our hearts are made for intimacy, for deep friendship with our brothers and sisters, for fellowship that is challenging, stimulating, and safe all at once. Only in our differences are we given the opportunity to exhibit the unconditional love and unity we crave. And only unity in Christ can cross the barriers of doctrine and culture to shine brightly to a dark and fractured world.
Lord, help me to keep this in mind when confronted by those who interpret your Word differently. May I remember what issues are truly important, and agree to disagree in love regarding all else. Let me be an example of love and unity in You that will win the world with its sweetness. Rather than be characterized by division, may our lives be a reflection of Your goodness, Your grace, and Your love. Amen.
–“Door” courtesy of Nattavut, freedigitalphotos.net
–“Paper Man” courtesy of nongpimmy, freedigitalphotos.net
Linking up with Grace and Truth, at Arabah Joy’s today. Grab a cup of coffee and come on over!